Billionaires: NBA legend LeBron James joins elite billionaires' club

In our fortnightly roundup, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala makes $35 million bet on low-cost airline and Blackstone’s Jon Gray joins world’s 500 richest

Basketball player LeBron James has earned $330 million in player salaries and another $700m off the court from endorsements, merchandising, licensing and his media business. Photo: AFP
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LeBron James

Basketball player LeBron James has joined the exclusive billionaires’ club, sports website Sportico reported.

The Space Jam: A New Legacy star is the first active player from the National Basketball Association to crack $1 billion in career earnings.

James, 36, has earned $330 million in player salaries and another $700m off the court from endorsements, merchandising, licensing and his media business, according to the report. His current endorsement partners include Nike, PepsiCo, AT&T, Walmart, GMC, Epic Games, Beats, Blaze Pizza and Rimowa.

James entered the NBA straight from high school in 2003, armed with endorsement deals from Nike, Coca-Cola and Upper Deck, according to the report.

The only other athletes to earn $1bn while still active are golfer Tiger Woods, boxer Floyd Mayweather, tennis star Roger Federer and football greats Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala

Billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is planning to acquire 70 aircraft within four years for a new airline he wants to set up in India amid optimism that more people will travel by air.

Mr Jhunjhunwala, who is considering investing $35m and would own 40 per cent of the airline, expects to get a no-objection certificate from India’s aviation ministry in the next 15 days, he told Bloomberg Television.

The ultra-low cost airline will be called Akasa Air and the team, which includes a former senior executive of Delta Air Lines, is looking at planes that can carry 180 passengers, he said.

It’s a bold bet by Mr Jhunjhunwala, who’s known locally as India’s Warren Buffett, in a market that has seen some airlines collapse in the face of intense fare wars and high costs. Still, what was once the world’s fastest-growing aviation market holds an allure and Mr Jhunjhunwala is looking at opportunities to woo flyers with a new airline offering low fares.

I’m very, very bullish on India’s aviation sector in terms of demand. I think some of the increment players may not recover
Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, investor

“For the culture of a company to be frugal you’ve to start off fresh,” Mr Jhunjhunwala said. “I’m very, very bullish on India’s aviation sector in terms of demand.”

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines in India were struggling. Kingfisher Airlines, once the country’s second-largest domestic carrier, ended operations in 2012 and Jet Airways India, which was recently approved to fly again, collapsed in 2019.

While demand for air travel has been hit globally, India’s aviation industry is at greater risk of delayed recovery as the threat of a third wave of infections looms. Airlines are feeling the impact.

Vistara, which Singapore Airlines jointly owns with conglomerate Tata Group, is in discussions with Boeing and Airbus to delay aircraft deliveries and make changes to the payment timetables. IndiGo, India’s largest airline, reported a wider-than-anticipated loss as Covid-19 disruption crimped its revenue.

That’s not deterring Mr Jhunjhunwala, who has an estimated net worth of about $4.6bn, according to Forbes.

“I think some of the increment players may not recover,” he said. “I’ve got some of the best airline people in the world as my partners.”

Jonathan Gray

Blackstone Group’s Jonathan Gray joined the ranks of the world’s 500 wealthiest people as shares of the alternative asset manager soared amid a flurry of deal making and strong earnings.

Mr Gray, 51, who started at the company out of university and has risen to president and chief operating officer, has a fortune of $5.9bn, up more than 50 per cent this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He ranks as the 495th richest person in the world and the 159th in the US.

While now entrenched among the ultra-wealthy, Mr Gray’s fortune still trails that of Blackstone co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, who’s worth $33.2bn, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Mr Gray joined Blackstone in 1992 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in economics and English. After starting off working on M&A pitch books and ordering dinner for associates, he was chosen to help get the company’s fledgling real estate unit off the ground and by 2005 was helping run that business.

Mr Gray, who took on his current roles in 2018, owns more than 41 million shares and partnership units in Blackstone. He and his wife Mindy have donated more than $100m for cancer-related causes.

Blackstone’s shares rose about 12 per cent last week and 72 per cent since the beginning of the year as the Covid-19 pandemic presented investing opportunities. The company committed a record $28bn of capital to new deals in the second quarter, it said, including multibillion-dollar investments in Medline Industries and Home Partners of America.

The increase in share price has pushed Blackstone’s total market value to $134bn, or about $2bn more than that of Goldman Sachs Group.

Lee Man Tat

Billionaire Lee Man Tat, nicknamed the “King of Oyster Sauce” for his role as chairman of Chinese-style condiments maker Lee Kum Kee Group, has died. He was 91.

Mr Tat passed away on July 26, according to a statement on the WeChat account of Infinitus, a health products company chaired by one of his sons. He had a fortune of $17.6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The Hong Kong-based company was founded by his grandfather, Lee Kum Sheung, in 1888. It now sells more than 200 sauces and condiments in more than 100 countries, according to its website.

The family also owns properties in London, Hong Kong and mainland China, including the iconic Walkie Talkie building in England’s capital, which they bought for $1.8bn in 2017.

Mr Tat first took the helm almost five decades ago. After settling disputes with his uncles, he gave his brother equity and invited him to help lead the company. But their corporate visions diverged in the 1980s and Mr Tat ultimately regained full ownership, according to a case study by the Centre for Family Enterprises at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 2016.

Mr Tat’s children joined the business after earning degrees in the US, including in food science, chemical engineering, marketing and finance. The group’s main sauce business is now chaired by Mr Tat’s son Charlie.

Updated: August 01, 2021, 8:31 AM